Florida law affords police officers significant discretion when making arrests. If a sheriff’s deputy, city cop, or other law enforcement officer has reason to believe that you have committed a crime, you could be detained and taken to jail. While the police cannot keep you behind bars indefinitely, they do not necessarily need evidence to put you in handcuffs. Instead, an officer must simply convince a judge or a jury that any reasonable person might have considered you a suspect.
Making Sense of Probable Cause
When a law enforcement official initiates an arrest, they must demonstrate that they have probable cause to believe that a suspect has committed a crime. However, the definition of “probable cause” is highly variable.
In general, the police and the judiciary are held to very different standards:
- When a law enforcement officer arrests a suspect without a warrant, they must have both a reasonable belief that a criminal offense has been committed and that the suspect is most likely the perpetrator. While a defense attorney could allege that a police officer did not have probable cause, the courts typically permit law enforcement to make independent, experienced-based decisions. However, an arrest could be challenged if the arresting officer’s actions defied common sense and reason.
- When the police department or a prosecutor seeks a warrant for an individual’s arrest, then law enforcement must present compelling evidence that the suspect broke the law. Typically, a judge will consider documentary evidence, physical evidence, and eyewitness testimony before approving an arrest warrant.
In simple terms, a law enforcement officer can initiate an arrest if they have “probable cause” to believe that a suspect committed a crime. However, a police officer does not necessarily have to have compelling evidence to order an arrest.
Conversely, a judge will not usually sign an arrest warrant based on suspicion alone; instead, the judge will make a “probable cause” determination based off the availability of evidence against an individual.
The Police Don’t Always Need to Demonstrate Probable Cause
An arrest could be wrongful if a police officer cannot convince a judge or a jury that they had probable cause to initiate a traffic stop, search a private residence, or detain an individual for a prolonged period of time.
However, Florida law allows police officers to order an arrest even if they do have a warrant and have not witnessed criminal activity, provided that:
- The suspect is both in the possession of an illegal firearm and has a protection order filed against them for domestic violence or stalking
- The suspect is in violation of a protective order issued for domestic violence or sexual crimes.
Furthermore, the police can arrest a suspect if the police discover evidence of criminal activity after the suspect allows law enforcement to conduct a warrantless search of their person, vehicle, or other property.
Unfortunately, even if you are never charged with or convicted of a crime, the ramifications of an arrest can cause long-lasting personal and reputational damage.
Contact an Okaloosa County Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one have been arrested in Okaloosa County, call Flaherty & Merrifield today at (850) 243-6097 for a free consultation.